This morning my oldest girl, Grace, said to me: "Mom, I will tell you this and you will tell no one." (She is a bit dramatic and often speaks like this.) I obviously braced for something big. Sort of.
She said, "Mom, there is a bully at school and NO ONE plays with her. We all run because she will attack you if she gets near you."
Now, maybe you are wondering if I called that school right up and demanded that the bully be kept away from my precious little snowflake. Not a chance. My heart goes out to that confused little girl. Grace is fine. Grace will probably always be fine in that schoolyard. She has a team of friends around her. They stick together and rally against anything that is different. They might even be bonding over their fear of this girl right now. This makes me ill.
I felt gutted for two reasons. One, I imagined a schoolyard full of children running and hiding from a bewildered little girl who may be completely unaware that her actions are rough or inappropriate. And two, I imagined Kate in her place.
Kate is my youngest. She is a four-year-old tornado of a kid. She also has autism and the nuances of the social world completely mystify her. Kate is rough and tumble. She hugs like a linebacker and has no mercy when she wants something that you have. She doesn't understand social conventions and she might always struggle with these abstract concepts. She might, someday, be that girl that everyone runs away from. She'll likely be rough and intrude on personal space. She might say things that seem strange or even inappropriate at times. She may be the bully one day.
I believe there is a place for anti-bullying education. I believe some children are bullied mercilessly and it changes them. It shapes them into anxious, self-doubting adults. It leaves scars that cannot be healed. I shudder at the thought of my girls being bullied. I know Kate may be a prime target herself. This type of bullying is truly dangerous because it is malicious and intended to cause fear, embarrassment and pain. Children that are different in some way are often the targets of these attacks, whether they are bullied by exclusion or harassed outright.
This girl though, the one Grace is talking about, is different. I've met her. I've watched her interact with other children. I suspect there are developmental issues clouding her judgment and her understanding of schoolyard etiquette. I've schooled myself in such things, and while I have no right to label this child, I feel strongly that there is something more to her behavior. I believe that a label or a diagnosis could bring much-needed answers and support for her and her family. Ultimately, though, it is not for me to say. So, for now, I will turn my attention to educating my own girls about the intricacies of this kind of behavior. Could it be that Grace and her friends are the true bullies in this scenario? Does their exclusion of this little girl put them in that category?
Grace and I had a long talk this morning. She left confused. All the propaganda surrounding bullying demands that Grace despise this activity. She must run and tell her teacher. She must stand strong with her friends against the bully. Bullies are bad, right? Chasing and hitting are bad, right? How can I ask her to understand that things are not so black and white for everyone? Her own sister, for example, would not understand that her hugs can be painful when done from a full running start or that she shouldn't take someone's toy from their hands. Kate, and maybe this little girl, too, struggles with body language, rules, transitions and receptive language. All skills one would need in order to navigate the school yard.
I don't expect Grace to understand the intricacies of this situation right now, but I hope one day she will. After all, she will share that schoolyard with her sister in one short year and I may need Miss Grace to stand in defense of the bully.